My humble attempt at explaining why bad things happen even to those who serve God. We will face hard times, but in facing those times, and choosing to follow God, we honor and praise His name through our choice.
This past Wednesday night, I traveled to Gun Barrel City, TX (awesome name for a city, BTW), to speak at the Spiritual Boot Camp at the Cedar Creek Church of God. While the evening took a turn we didn’t expect so that I didn’t get to present my story (I am returning on August 8 to present), I witnessed one of the most amazing displays of faith I’ve ever seen. At the front of the sanctuary a trash can had been placed on the stage, and that trash can had a label on it marked “Sin and Distractions.” Now, having been to many youth events, I’ve seen this kind of thing before. Usually, teens are asked to write some sin on a slip of paper and walk up to the front to throw it away. It’s a great symbolic gesture, but a gesture was not enough for the teens at Cedar Creek as I soon found out.
Before the event began, I walked up to the trash can and was blown away to see joints, bags of illegal drugs, porn magazines and videos, condoms, and other sinful pleasures. These weren’t words written on pieces of paper, but the actual devices of sin. Throughout the evening during the praise, teen after teen came forward to add to the trash can. With tears streaming down their faces, they would throw in their drugs, magazines, etc, and would immediately be greeted by the other teenagers in the room with hugs, applause, and excitement. The responses were amazing, and they reminded me of a part of the story of the prodigal son. I got a chance to share with the teens for a few minutes at the end and we focused on this statement in the story from Luke 15: 20:
So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
In this story, a son has squandered all his inheritance in a distant country, and he decides to return to his father to work as a servant as his actions surely would mean he could no longer be called his father’s son. However, Jesus (who is telling the story) throws a surprise twist and has God (represented by the father in the story) run out and welcome his son home. I absolutely love this particular statement: But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him. Where does the father (God) have to be in order to see his son returning home?
He had to be on the porch…waiting each and every moment of the day for his son to return.
God awaits for his children to come to Him…and there isn’t a hint of condemnation… His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Those teens who were repenting and bringing their sins forward to throw away were not being met by a disdain from Heaven, but rather by a God and a Heaven waiting with open arms and throwing the biggest party ever! I praise God for His amazing grace!
This past weekend, I got to serve as a Disciple Now speaker for Heritage Baptist Church in Texarkana, TX. We had a fantastic weekend, and being a Christian youth speaker is such an amazing opportunity. I loved watching the teens worship and praise God with all of their hearts, and was reminded why our worship as adults needs to be as free as theirs was.
Now, I must tell that I am painfully aware of the dissidence between the Churches of Christ and the Baptist Church. While there are areas of tradition that I treasure, I contend that if you believe in Jesus, then we are in the same wonderful family. I do not share feelings of animosity, and feel strongly that if we all learned how to stop the arguing and start realizing that we have more in common as believers in Jesus than we have to argue you about, God’s family would be a much happier place. I love my brothers and sisters that I met with this weekend, and am honored to have been called the same from their perspective.
I tell you all of that to say that their outpouring of love by the church throwing a birthday party for Hannah simply blew me away. They had a cute cupcake-cake that was formed in the shape of a dog. (Hannah kept asking me what happened to the dog’s nose…and it felt strange to tell her that she had eaten it!) We sang the familiar birthday song, helped Hannah blow out the candles, and had a wonderful celebration. The church members even bought her a baby and stroller set to go along with her collection. She couldn’t have been happier.
I know all churches have differences, and I am not advocating that we agree on everything. However, with both myself and the youth pastor at Heritage Baptist being each raised in a denomination that has historically called the other’s denomination a heresy, I can’t help but feel that the kind of love we experienced is exactly what Jesus was praying for in John 17: 20-21:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
I continue to be amazed each and every day with the love shown in the family of God.
Last week, we got to spend some time in Johnson City, KS. I know…I had to look it up, too! Johnson City is in the far southwestern corner of the state and is only a few miles from the Colorado and Texas borders. It was quite literally the “middle of nowhere.” While a remote destination, the people of Johnson City, KS, couldn’t have been a nicer bunch!
Our trip began at a Wednesday night service at Fields Memorial Wesleyan Church to a group of teenagers and adults. We had a wonderful evening of pizza, worship, and a message to get those in attendance to ponder what it means to be a positive Christian. I believe that’s the only way Christians can serve and carry out God’s will in the world…we must be a happy people!
On Thursday, I began the morning at Stanton County High School, speaking to the students there about truly living life for all it’s worth, and about not letting any obstacle get in your way. We had a blast during the question and answer time that I always try to incorporate in my school presentations. The students asked questions for a good thirty-five minutes and we had a great discussion on how to approach others with disabilities…along with some fun stuff like answering how I play Rockband 2!
Thursday night, I spoke at the Life Support Crisis Pregnancy Center’s Annual Banquet. This event was the main reason for being in Johnson City, KS, and the banquet was wonderful. So many people showed up that the hosts had to put out more tables! We met so many people with their own stories of hope and inspiration, and I loved being able to encourage and support Life Support in their efforts. We had a fabulous time with Lisa (the Exec. Director of Life Support) and her wonderful family! We felt right at home in Johnson City!
Two weeks ago, I got the opportunity to speak at the 2009 Akastasia youth rally at the Southwest Church of Christ in Omaha, NE. The theme for the weekend was “Be Contagious.” We focused on basic elements of being contagious with the message of Jesus.
Saturday morning, I talked about “how” to be contagious. So often, we allow our ourselves to put up road blocks and obstacles when we should be celebrating what we have been given. We focus so often on what we don’t have, when God asks for our best with what we have been given.
Saturday night, I gave a reason for us to be contagious. Simply put, God’s unfailing love compells us to live happy, joy-filled lives. That love gives us all the reason we need to be contagious.
Sunday morning, I finished with the “who.” While I believe everyone deserves God’s love and salvation, I am concerned that we not put our own limitations on it by deciding who is worthy of love. So often, people that look like us are easy to accept, but someone who looks different (whether it be race, age, sex, disability, etc) is oftened shunned. Or, worse, the church has flat out rejected them as unworthy. I told the youth and the rest of the church that morning that Jesus shows us time and time again that each and every human being is important to God. We ought to follow his example and leave our prejudices aside when it comes to the Kingdom of God.
The weekend was awesome, and I loved getting to know some of the amazing teens that weekend.
We continued our Nebraska tour by heading to the University of Nebraska at Kearney, which I’ll tell you all about next time. I’ll leave you with a picture from Akastasia 2009.
This past weekend, my dad and I journeyed out to speak four times at three different locations in two different states. We first arrived on Thursday night in Wichita, KS, were I spoke to Goodwill Easter Seals of Kansas. Goodwill was celebrating the year with an awards banquet, and we watched as so many employees were rewarded for their hard work. We also heard some of the best “acceptance speeches” ever. One young lady simply walked up to the microphone after receiving her award and announced, “Woohoo!” I think the Academy Awards recipients in Hollywood need to take a cue from these Goodwill employees. It was a fantastic night, and I was so glad to get to tell my story and inspire those serving the community in Wichita, KS.
Next, on Friday, we boarded the plane headed for Sacramento, CA (after a stop back in DFW…gotta love the routing of the airlines). After landing, we drove to Stockton, CA, where we both were to speak for Stockton Pregnancy Healthcare. Their annual banquet was held at an area country club, and the dinner was “luau” themed. After eating some great food, my dad and I told our story. We had a great crowd and they were very attentive despite a loud party going on in the room next to ours. I was so impressed by what Stockton PHC has been able to do with very little financial support, and we hope that those at the banquet that evening were able to help continue the pro-life cause in Stockton, CA, with their donations.
We took Saturday to drive to San Francisco to see “Wicked.” Such an awesome show, and what a great lesson to learn about not judging others by the color of their skin.
Finally, on Sunday, we spoke twice at Quail Lakes Baptist Church in Stockton. This church was rockin’, and they were so welcoming to us. I was so impressed by the multitude of races represented in their membership. I firmly believe that God intends for our churches to reflect the racial makeup of the world around us, and it was so refreshing to see people from so many different backgrounds worshiping together. Quail Lakes Baptist and Pastor Marc are to be commended for not excluding anyone from the message of the Gospel.
In closing…I LOVE my job as an inspirational speaker!!! I was glad to get home to my family, but even though it was tough being away from home, I absolutely loved the ability to simply tell my story and for others to be touched by it. Praise God for the amazing things He is doing right before our eyes!
On June 26th, we set out on another marathon trip to speak six different times in a two week period. The first part of the trip was spent in Tennessee speaking to three different churches and twice on the Lipsomb University Lectureship called, “Summer Celebration.” Summer Celebration was tons of fun as we got to see many familiar faces, and I got to hear some great singing groups. The picture you see is of my daughter, Hannah, helping me great people after one of our presentations. We were having fun making faces at each other, and she is always the star of the show.
After our Tennessee engagements were done, we hit the road for Kansas City were I got to speak at the Teenage Conference hosted by Children’s Mercy Hospital of Kansas City. There, I spoke to many teens (and their families) who all had experienced life-changing medical events within the past year. These teens were by far my favorite crowd to speak to as they were not only attentive, but could very easily identify with the challenges that I’ve faced. In fact, I joked several times about “preaching to the choir” as some of them had dealt with more difficult situations than I have. Their questions were so insightful, and I came away so blessed to have been able to share my story with them.
Next up for us, a quick trip to downtown Fort Worth to speak for the Social Security Administration on overcoming challenges and choosing happiness. Then, it’s on to Wichita, KS to preach at a chapel service at a camp for young adults who have muscular distrophy.
I love my job!
My family and I were driving down to San Antonio, TX last weekend when I saw a banner on a church building near Waco, TX that quickly got my attention. The banner read: “30 Minute Worship.” I went to the website listed on the banner (which I won’t display here as I do not wish to dignify them with a link) which confirmed my outrage. They proudly state:
This innovative service is for anybody who is tired of the way traditional church has been done, has limited time, or has to work Sundays. The high energy, focused package will creatively engage you to personally connect with God.
The site goes to explain that 8-10 minutes will be spent in worship, 12-15 minutes of lesson time, and 5 minutes of response.
Before I begin, please hear me say that I do believe this COULD help those who work on Sundays. But for the statement, “tired of the way traditional church has been done,” I am outraged.
You mean to tell me that you think anyone can have a personally engaging worship time in 30 minutes? Have we lost all ability to spend actual time with God? Here I was thinking how crazy it is when people complain about worship going a few minutes longer than an hour. Are we so busy that we give God the “leftovers” of our time? It is as if we are approaching God saying, “Listen, I don’t know if you are aware of this, but I’m pretty busy down here so I don’t have much time to worship you. How about I squeeze you in on Sunday mornings…will 30 minutes do the trick? Will I have worshipped you enough in 30 minutes to last for the week? Cause, God, you don’t know how busy I am.”
The Hebrews in the Old Testament would have known the answer to these questions. They were commanded to bring the “first-fruits” of their labor as an offering to God. I contend that God deserves the “first-fruits” or ‘first and best cut” of my money, my work, and my TIME. Our weekly worship time should not be a time to squeeze God into our week, but rather a time to relish in the presence of God in the gathering of his people to worship. God deserves our very best, and let’s also acknowledge please that worship is not about us.
Sure, worship uplifts us and draws us closer to God, but God is the object of our worship. Our worship is for Him and to Him, and I refuse to short-change God by limiting my time or my spirit in worship.
30 Minute Worship, eh? I’m sure glad that God doesn’t have anything on His schedule that prevents Him from hearing us when we cry out. I’m glad Jesus didn’t have a prior commitment that would have prevented him dying for my sins. God deserves the best we can give…and I commit to not allowing this world and its busy nature to ruin what I can give to my God.
(I was going to apologize for the rant…but some things in life deserve it!)
We just returned from a fantastic tour of several spots in Tennessee and Arkansas. The trip started on Wednesday, the 15th, at the Concord Road Church of Christ in Brentwood, TN where a cousin and her family attend. My dad and I presented “All He Needs For Heaven” and we enjoyed having worship led by my cousin’s son. I love being with family.
On Thursday, I spoke to the David Lipscomb Campus School with my “I’m Not Broken” presentation. I had a blast with the students there as they were extremely attentive and had lots of great (and sometimes hilarious) questions for me. There were over 700 students in attendance, and I’ve never seen such a respectful audience. Usually, I kind find a few people talking or playing with cell phones, etc…not in this group of kids! They were awesome! They allowed Jesus to shine through their wonderful attitudes.
On Friday, I got to speak at Friendship Christian School (FCS) in Lebanon, TN. At FCS that day, they held “Commanders in Action” day. (Their mascot is the commander.) For many years, now, the school has held a day when students with disabilities from all over the county can come and enjoy a festival. Each FCS student is paired with a student who has a disability, and they spend the day getting to know each other and playing games. I told the students how proud of them I was, and I believe they were truly accomplishing Jesus’s mission of showing love to everyone. They were a fantastic group, and I believe the beauty of Jesus could be seen in them and in their actions.
On Sunday, my dad and I again delivered our message to both the Otter Creek Church of Christ and the Hermitage Church of Christ. Both churches have plenty of family members to catch up with, and the praise and worship at both churches made it a fantastic day.
After a couple days of rest, we continued on to Bentonville, Arkansas. On Wednesday the 22nd, I spoke at the corporate offices of Wal-Mart. My assigned topic was disability awareness, and I got to tell them about my experiences in life and in the job force. I believe there many things that corporate America can learn to help make people who have disabilities feel wonderful. The executives at Wal-Mart told me that they learned a lot, and it also helped that I had them laughing through most of the presentation.
That night I got to speak at the Decatur Assembly of God Church in Decatur, Arkansas. They could not have been more receptive to the message, and they were one of the most welcoming crowds I’ve ever had the privilege of speaking before. This was my first sermon to deliver by myself, as my dad had already flown home. I had a blast!
While it was exhausting, and Hannah, Joni and I all wound up with colds, the trip was absolutely thrilling. God has opened so many doors, and we continue to be blown away at His generosity. I’ll leave you with a video shot at David Lipscomb campus school that tells a funny story of a time in junior high when a bully decided to pick a fight with me.
This past week was an absolute blast! I am still on Cloud 9, and doubt I’ll be coming down any time soon. Wednesday night, my dad and I gave our “All He Needs for Heaven” presentation to the Alameda Church of Christ in Norman, OK. My good friends the Tugmans were there, and the evening was a great kick-off to our Oklahoma-Arkansas Mini Tour.
Thursday night, I got to sing with the Memorial Road Church of Christ Praise Team at the Tulsa Soul Winning Workshop. Now, I love to sing, but what an experience…singing for thousands. The song we sang that night is called “Heal Me” and it focuses on asking God for spiritual healing. Our dry spirits can really drag us down, and I firmly believe in praying for renewal. Here is the video from that night:
The Workshop was a blast, and we even got 6-8″ of snow. That was crazy!
After the Tulsa Workshop, we drove on over to Rogers, Arkansas, where we gave our presentation to two churches, Grace Harbor Church and Bentonville Church of Christ. While both times were wonderful, Sunday morning was a special treat for me as we spoke where several long-time friends attend. Several of these friends are members of a singing group called “Free Indeed.” I’ve known them for years, now, and love to sing with them. All my friends from “Free Indeed” were able to come that morning, and together, we sang “Call on Jesus” which is an amazing song acknowledging that true strength comes from Jesus. Here is the video from that song:
So, as you can tell, I had the time of my life this weekend getting to praise God in so many different places. We have a couple weeks off, now, and then we gear up again for a trip to Tennessee. Maybe I’ll come down from Cloud 9 by then…nah!